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Why retailers must make social work


Retail sales through social media haven’t grown at the rate they should have among what is a relatively tech savvy customer base.

The figures showing the growth of internet retail speak for themselves. In 2013, there was growth of 16% in online shopping compared to the previous year according to IMRG. Although household budgets are still tight, shoppers are flooding onto the virtual high streets and with £107m predicted to go through online tills this year, the trend shows no sign of abating.

But let’s not reach for the champagne just yet. There’s a slew of retailers that are selling themselves short by not engaging in social media to uncover its full potential and help differentiate themselves in a crowded market. The internet isn’t full of faceless people, it’s populated by interesting personalities and captivated communities and business of various sizes. Retailers should grasp the opportunity presented to them by using social media not to blurt out messages, but to excite and engage with potential customers.

So where do we currently stand? A young ‘Facebook generation’ of consumers are frank in communicating their opinions through social channels and the challenge to businesses is to respond in a way that protects their brand. They do this in a retail environment where margins are tight, competition is fierce and high street shops still face closure through sluggish adaption to the modern marketplace. You can choose any from a long list of retailers that includes Blockbuster, Comet and HMV to illustrate that point. But businesses can also be empowered to grow their customer base and gain loyalty in an increasingly unfaithful marketplace.

Moving to mobile

Retail sales via mobile in the UK rocketed by 138% last year against the year before, according to IMRG, presenting interesting opportunities to those who understand the clientele. Today’s smartphone-equipped, web savvy consumers are time-poor and expect a quick response, a choice of communication channels and access to relevant information. They also expect fast delivery and easy returns. Communicating with shoppers through the established social media channels as well as emerging networks will pay dividends to those who really know their audiences and can use social media in creative ways, with imagination, personality and a firm grasp of data and analytics.

The value of a customer relationship is no longer defined by a series of transactions, but rather the complete experience a seller offers a buyer at the time of purchase and throughout their time with the product or service. As a result, it’s vital to improve the customer experience by using internal and external data sources to predict behavior patterns, market trends, customer demand.

Whether a retailer sells niche products or not, stores can further capture interest by waking up to the fact that there are entire community groups that are untapped on social media. They are the very same specialist groups that are passionate about key interests and can quickly create a buzz around not just a product, but a brand. It’s time to rethink what a brand represents in a social world. Whether retailers use celebrity endorsements or group buying sites, they are still pushing a message out without paying enough attention to interaction. The smart money will be invested in associating a brand with key communities.

Share and share alike

It’s a misconception that online shopping has taken the fun and social aspect away from the good old days of high street shopping. In fact, the two worlds are colliding in a very physical way with more people ‘showrooming’ than ever. According to figures from IMRG and eDigitalResearch, 47% of UK smartphone owners are using their phones to browse for an item while out shopping. Meanwhile, consumers are continuing to share their shopping experiences with their peers but in a virtual way. As a result, there should be a move towards making shopping sites more shareable and conducive to quick and easy access. As we march towards a new paradigm of multichannel shopping, Avanade’s own Connected Store is one solution that has helped companies to sell their good easily across platforms but also gain intelligence about how their customers purchase products.

Far too many retailers have a bad habit of bombarding shoppers with excessive information on their social media channels. As a result, consumers struggle to see the wood for the trees, become disinterested and abandon the site empty handed. There’s a clear relationship between data and design that when paired together can work incredibly well. For example, paying attention to user experience you can build a picture of users by their browsing habits and the sites they have come from to land on your page. By building intelligent content around individual users, shopping sites can be simpler and targeted much better, encouraging surfers to buy and share purchases with friends using social media.

Shopping is social again but in a way that differs to what we have seen in times gone by. Shoppers still seek approval and endorsement from friends but now this is increasingly done in a virtual way, retailers must do better to captivate them. Social media isn’t something to be squandered, but utilised in a sophisticated and meaningful way to drive sales, loyalty and excitement around a brand.

Published on Friday 04 April by Editorial Assistant

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